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      In light of the collapse of the Ruble I think it’s worth revisiting what controls exchange rates. Supply and Demand. Yeah, if you know something about the subject you’re probably shaking your head. Supply and Demand doesn’t set prices in many cases in the way that an Economics 101 course tells you. Such texts will [...]
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An answer to Atrios on how old you need to be to ride a city bus to school

Taking the public bus to school in Nuremberg, Germany

Atrios asked the question in response to Lenore Skenazy’s post on FreeRangeKids about a mother who was reported to CPS for allowing her 10 year old to ride the public bus to school by herself. Here’s my take on it.

My kid spent the summer in Nuremberg, Germany as an summer study award recipient from the German government (Long story.  She earned it). She was paired with a girl who was a couple of years younger than Brooke.  We’ll call her C.  C is 14 and attends the equivalent of eighth grade.  Germans go to school well into July so Brooke went to school with C and spent time in the high school level gymnasium as well. Additionally, in Germany, it seems like the school isn’t necessarily in the immediate neighborhood.  The gymnasium Brooke and C attended was in the middle of Nuremberg but C lived about about 8-10 miles away.

To get to school every morning, Brooke and C would get on the city bus, just like all the other students in Nuremberg.  They took the bus to the train station and then took the train into town. Then they walked.  Brooke didn’t say how young the youngest students were that took the bus and train but you can expect that from about the 6th grade on, the public transit system was the transportation that the students were expected to use.   She was given an unlimited transit pass for the month that she was there but that was part of her award.  C and her family used a more limited pass with a certain number of rides and they needed to buy new ones periodically, sort of like a metro card.

But wait! There’s more.

Brooke says that a typical gymnasium day is broken into two parts.  The compulsory parts of the curriculum are in the morning.  The electives are in the afternoon and afternoon scheduling varies depending on what you’re taking.  It’s difficult to describe but it sounds like more of a college schedule in the afternoon because the elective classes don’t meet every day of the week or meet hours apart, that kind of thing.  So, after your morning classes, you’re pretty much free to do what you want until your afternoon electives begin.  And she didn’t have lunch at school.  You’re on your own after your morning classes are finished and that means you can leave the school if you want.  Students either go home or they roam the city foraging for food, usually at McDonalds.  Brooke said she ate more lunches at Mickey D’s in Nuremberg than she ever has in the US.

That kind of behavior is unheard of here in the states and yet it seems to work just fine in Nuremberg.  There aren’t gangs of kids getting into trouble during the middle of the day or getting kidnapped at the bus stops.  You can imagine what it was like when she started school this fall back in her old high school.  Suddenly, she was treated like a feeble minded toddler again after a summer of expectations of mature and responsible behavior.  There is no public transportation in this town and no way for her to go and explore the city or walk around.  There really aren’t that many destinations here anyway.  It’s a suburb and all the businesses are on a busy main drag without many sidewalks.  It’s strictly SUVLand.  There aren’t any cathedrals or museums or gathering places nearby. No place where a bunch of teenagers with time to kill before their classes can hang out without suspicions of  wrongdoing. Not only that but leaving the campus during the middle of the day is strictly forbidden.  You can’t just go off to a local coffee shop or a cafe order a sausage and a beer, which you can drink at 16.  Nooooo.  Your movements are strictly controlled.  Can you imagine that?? Nuremberg lets a whole junior year’s worth of students loose in a city where it’s legal to drink beer at 16 and no one bats an eye.  Here in NJ, a 16 year old can’t go anywhere without a strict chain of custody.

And the weird thing is that the whole time she was in Germany riding the buses and trains from town to town with her friends, and many times without the chaperone, I never worried about her.  During her time in Berlin, her group had several opportunities to explore the city on their own without the chaperone.  And they did.  For a bunch of American kids to go to a city in a different country and not have to be tied to a chaperone who practically has to be in the bathroom with them to wipe their asses just doesn’t happen here.  It must have been very liberating.  And they all made it back to the hotel in one piece.  Fancy that.  Will wonders never cease.

Why the people of central New Jersey think it is good or healthy to regulate their kids’ every move is beyond me.  Brooke really resents being curtailed.  She can’t go anywhere without a car, which is too expensive for her to learn to drive in our present domestic circumstances, and the system acts like it can’t trust her or her classmates to keep their commitments.  They’re assumed to be up to no good before they’ve even done anything.  Around here, little groups of teenagers can’t walk through the neighborhoods talking and laughing without some irate citizen calling the police on them for making noise.

But the more I see it, the more I am convinced that it’s not really a safety issue.  It’s a control issue.  There are many things we can’t control anymore.  Our jobs and retirements seem very uncontrollable.  We can’t control the wars our elected officials got us into.  We can’t control gas prices or food prices or global warming.  But we can control our kids.  It seems like some people are hanging onto that power way past the point where it serves any useful purpose.  You have to let your kids grow up sometime.

As for Brooke, the summer in Germany matured her quite a bit.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove her to Philadelphia Airport  to catch a flight to visit her grandparents in Houston.  I left her off at the curb in front of the terminal, got her bags out of the car, and told her to wait inside for me while I parked the car.  Before I had even found a spot, she buzzed me on the phone.  She had checked in, gotten her boarding pass, checked her baggage and was going through security.  I could leave because there was nothing left for me to do or hover over or fret about.  She jumped on the plane without any help at all.  Thank you, Nuremberg.

So, the answer to the question about how old should a student be in order to take public transportation to school is: find out what the best practices are in the rest of the world and use that as a guideline.  If it’s ok for a 10 year old in Nuremberg to take the public bus to school, it’s probably ok for an American kid to do it.  It would be nice if the kid had other friends doing it too.  There’s comfort in numbers.  But as long as the kid can navigate the bus route and use the token/card system by themselves after practice with a parent, why not?  Give the kid a cell phone and tell him/her to call if they get stuck.

They’ll probably do fine.

And here’s how they get to school in the Netherlands.  Now THIS is what I’d love to see in more places in the US:

Tuesday: Clearing the Instapaper Queue

Let’s see, what have we got in there today:

1.) How useless is marketing?  Let me count the ways.  I went into Lowes the other day to buy some molding for my generic builder’s grade bathroom mirror.  The guy showed me *one* profile that would fit my mirror.  One.  I told him it was too narrow.  You know that fricking “take it or leave it” shrug that 60 year old men who work in the molding department of Lowes give you?  That shrug that makes you want to shoot him through the throat with an arrow just to watch the surprised look on his face while you stand over him saying, “Bet you’ll never do that again”?  Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, the reason why Lowes doesn’t have the right molding with the channel on the back that goes around the mirror clips is because some smug asshole in marketing decided YOU didn’t NEED it in zip code 02134 (That’s ZOOM!).  Welcome to Soviet Suburbia where everyone gets to choose the same mediocre decor, food and fashion that all your neighbors will buy as determined by your local demographic and mined studiously by some MBA in marketing.  You’ll never get anything different because nothing different is ever offered for sale and therefore does not go into the database as the kind of thing your demographic will buy.  No, it doesn’t make any sense.  That means if you want something with taste, style or is a smidge different, you have to keep shopping out of your area or go online to buy it.  Fun.  Just what I always wanted to do.  I hate to shop.

Anyway, here’s an article from the NYTimes about marketing for the upcoming movie, The Hunger Games, which I am dying to see this Friday.  If you haven’t read the book by Suzanne Collins, I highly recommend it.  It’s young adult fiction but it’s really too good for sarcastic, sulky adolescents.  So this article is all about marketing and how this guy is marketing his skills as a marketer to market a movie that needed zero marketing and how he created this facebook page and a website and trailers and stuff and that’s why the movie is going to be the blockbuster that ate Jurrasic Park.

No, the movie is going to be a monster blockbuster because the books were that good and it features Jennifer Lawrence, who is the next Meryl Streep.  The distributer should have saved the money.  All it would have taken is one or two trailers on TV or youtube to have screaming girls from 12 to 64 lined up around the theater on Friday.  Twilight?  What’s Twilight?

When are American businesses going to learn that the thing that marketers sell best is themselves?  Other than that, they’re fricking useless.

2.) A new height for helicopter parenting: purge your house of “toxins” before the little tyke comes home from the hospital.  It’s the new “vaccines cause autism” and “genetically modified crops are bad” thing.  {{rolling eyes}}  Like you can isolate your kid forever from the world.  Oh, please, don’t even tell me how there are things that can harm and cause cancer and they’re in everything, EVERYTHING!  You nervous types really need to chill.  Rats get cancer from anything, ask any phamacologist.  They’re kind of prone to it.  A rat study is just a warning that if you eat a ton of that stuff or breathe it 24/7 for 20 years, you *may* get sick.  There are better tests than rat studies.  If you have time to worry about this instead of some poor kid drinking polluted water in a third world country, you’re making way too much money or you need to find a hobby.  Like palm reading or astrology or some other embarrassing belief in things you can’t understand.

Yes, I am a little irritated this morning.  Why do you ask?  The world is full of gullible people freaking and going to extremes when they really just need to use common sense and stop feeding their kids formaldehyde.

3.) David Silverman, head of American Atheists, writes Why We Need a Reason Rally for the Washington Post.  Um, because way too few Americans actually use reason in everyday life?  Just a guess.  David says:

America is one of the most religious countries in the world. And if you are non-religious, it can seem that without religion you cannot be elected to public office, cannot be considered a moral or ethical person, or be considered a patriot. It does not appear to matter what religious beliefs you cling to so long as you can tell anyone who asks, “Yes, sir or ma’am, I believe in God.”

Well, when you put it that way.  He makes it sound like there’s an incentive to lie about religious beliefs.  Hey, how many of the 12% of Congressional representatives and senators that are non-religious can we expect to come out at The Reason Rally on Saturday?

What does secular America believe?

3.5) From Derek Lowe’s blog, In the Pipeline, news of a new study that shows that cancerous tumors are full of hypermutable cell lines.  In other words, in some cancerous tumors, there is a heterogenous collection of cancerous cells containing different mutations. This may be caused by the first mutation running wild and setting off other cell mutations and before you know it, you’ve got a bunch of cells breaking free and getting into trouble. This is the kind of thing geeky evolutionists get off on.  The bottom line is that it’s going to take a lot more work for us to get to the bottom of what’s going on in every cell.

Too bad we’re all laid off.  Bummer.

4.) This one’s funny.  Fox News says that James Carville said that Hillary was going to run in 2016.  I read this blurb and Carville said no such thing.  It’s what he didn’t say that intrigues me.

5.) Paul Krugman is having another “Hey, guys, we’ve been eating grass” moment about Barack Obama’s persistent intimidation by the Washington Press corps and how that has made his policies suck, big time. In his blog post, Political Malpractice, Krugman writes:

Finally, it’s hard not to have the sense that when political types in this administration talk about appealing to “voters”, what they really mean is appealing to self-proclaimed centrist pundits who claim to have their fingers on the pulse of independent voters. Aside from the fact that they don’t — that the complicated psychodramas concocted by pundits exist only in their heads, not the heads of voters — experience shows that nothing Obama can do will satisfy these guys; they need, professionally, to maintain the pretense that both sides of the political divide are equally extreme. How many columns have you read demanding that someone stake out centrist positions that happen to be exactly what Obama has already been saying?

I have to say that the various accounts of what went wrong are converging on a very depressing picture, in which White House political “experts” actually believed that trying to please the Washington Post editorial page was a winning political move.

And I worry that they’ll double down on this mistake in an effort to prove that they were right all along.

Ya’ think?  Hey, did you know that the economy is recovering?  Neither did I.

6.) Dave Weigel at Slate wonders Why Obama ever won in the first place and gets some honest answers which may come as a bit of a shock to the Obama campaign that is still thinking it had something to do with his political gifts,  genius campaign and brilliant speaking style.

7.) And finally, my dream house, off the grid, in Extremadura, Spain.  I love the water features and the happy accidents they produce.   Contributions for making my dream a reality are gratefully accepted.  Get me out of New Jersey before I break out my bow and arrows and go hunting.

My New Best Friend

I was redirected to the YouTube channel, Mompetition, from Lenore Skenazy’s excellent blog Freerangekids.  The creator of Mompetition, a cancer researcher and helicopter mom skeptic, and I seem to have a lot in common.  Check it out:

Now, I have made no secret of my dislike of SAHMs.  Some of our former frontpagers, who incidentally were NOT SAHMs, have used this as an excuse to take their dishes and go away.  But I don’t think I’ve made it clear what it is I dislike about them.  So, let me explain, because I suspect that it’s something the forces of evil will use to divide women in the upcoming elections.

First, I love my kids but I would go stark raving bat $#@^ crazy if I had to spend the majority of time with the moms depicted in mompetition’s videos.  Unfortunately, the suburbs where I live is chock full of these women.  They never let their kids outside, they organize their kids’ friends, sports events and bowel movements down to the second and they have the nerve to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

Second, I have no problem with women who choose to stay home with their kids.  If that’s what you want to do and you can afford to do it and you possess the mothering skills of Mary Poppins, go right ahead.  Don’t let us stop you.  But don’t ask for any special recognition of your “sacrifice”.  When you use that word, you reveal more about your relationship to your children than you probably intended.  They’re your *children*, not a burden that you have given up your life to raise.  More than that though is the attitude that those of us who work have somehow chosen the low road.  We might cure cancer but we will never be saints, revered by our families and churches for denying everything about ourselves in order to raise these future humanitarians.

Let’s clear that up that misconception. We working moms put in a full day and then come home and do all the parenting too.  We volunteer at school, set up science experiments at school science fairs, make smoked salmon tea sandwiches, decoratively cut into perfect crustless triangles for Victorian History Week Lunch and go on two day field trips with a bunch of eighth graders to a Y camp in early March when the temperature plunged below freezing and where (at least) one of the chaperone’s had forgotten her thermal underwear.  In other words, we do everything SAHMs do and then some.

But more than that, the pressure on women (and yes, there is all kinds of pressure on women) to give themselves up for the sake of their children, is rooted in the myth of the golden era of domesticity of post WWII when women were more or less forced back to the home and the household economics of the middle class rose. (And anyone who has watched Mad Men or read Betty Friedan knows how well that worked out for some women who were never meant to be stay at home mothers) There’s some kind of correlation-causation error related to the nostalgia of the era, my parents’ generation, that overlooks the fact that historically, the SAHM has been very, very unusual for the human species.  Most mothers work or have worked since the dawn of time.  They sometimes took their kids with them.  Children have had to grow up fast and go to work themselves.  Some bourgeoise women had wet nurses so they could spend their time at leisure.  The SAHM who was there when you came home to give you cookies and milk was a statistical blip on the historical record.  Most mothers throughout history did not spend every minute of their day obsessing about whether they were spending enough time with their kids.  There were survival things to do and everyone had to help out.

So, this notion that good women stay home with their children while less than good women stick their kids in day care and go to work is a recent construct.

One thing is for sure, people like Sarah Palin will glom onto the mommy wars like there’s no tomorrow.  Older women my mom’s age are heavily indoctrinated and are venerated by the FOX news crew for being “the good mothers”.  If women’s votes are crucial to the next election, and I believe they will be, now is not a good time to be at each other’s throats.  But I am not going to jump on the conservative mothering bandwagon and give SAHMs an extra special place in the pantheon of mothers.  If I did that, I would immediately be complicit in slapping working mothers with the label of inferior mommies.  Yes, Stay at Home Moms, that is what you are doing whether you are aware of it or not.

And I’m not going to go along with it.  Don’t ask for a special recognition award.  If you need to be recognized for giving up your career to raise your kids, then you need to sit down and have a conversation with yourself and determine whether you did that of your own free will.  If you did, fine.  Then you don’t need a medal.  You should be happy with your decision.  If you didn’t, don’t get mad at me because I don’t kiss your ass to validate your choice.  Going against the tide of conformity is hard.  It can make you unpopular with your family, community and peers.  But if you are true to yourself, it has its own rewards for yourself and your kids.  I feel sorry for women who didn’t feel they had that choice but that doesn’t mean they have the right to resent and condemn the rest of us.  How does that move women’s issues to the forefront if we’re ready to go to war over some societally imposed pressure to sacrifice ourselves?  Can it bring back our younger days?  Change the past?  Does it make it easier for our daughters and granddaughters to do what’s right for themselves as person’s in their own right?  It’s never too late to decide that you won’t subject another woman to the pressures that were imposed on you.

We all make decisions that take our lives in different directions.  But fighting over who is the best mother is something the masters of the universe take great delight in stirring up.  I won’t be part of it.  On this blog, I will make sure that no mother is held in greater esteem than any other.  Mothering is hard enough without having someone we don’t even know tell us how to do it.

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